Doomed Boy Scouts and Alien Objects

Here’s everything I knew about Nick Cutter’s The Troop when I started it: it was a horror novel which people seemed to like. That’s pretty much it.

I thought it was going to be about a viral outbreak and, without giving too much away, it kind of is, but it’s more parasitic in nature… and kind of gross, too. In other words, it was right up my alley. It was a bit of a stretch to believe such a thing could find itself on the same island as a character like Shelley (this little fucker deserves a cell next door to Hannibal Lecter), but it was worth suspending my disbelief. If, like me, you had trouble enjoying Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, this is a much better version of that story.

The Troop

Growing up, I was inexplicably drawn to the cover of Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee’s Rama Revealed when I saw it sitting on the shelf of a book store one day. When I realized it was a sequel, I convinced my mother to order the first in the series, Rendezvous with Rama, at Steve’s Sundry (R.I.P.). The rest is history: I annihilated the series and I’ve been a fan of Clarke and science fiction ever since. I even loved the sequels as a kid (though I’ve never been able to get into them as an adult) and I’ve been forever chasing the high that first book gave me.

I love superstructures and I love big science fiction. The harder the better. I’m increasingly turned off by the self-aware geek-chic SF of today, which seems to be suffocated by pop cultural references and nostalgia. I want academic characters talking about real world theories and all the known unknowns and unknown unknowns, and everything in between.

Sphere

Over the years, the itch has been scratched here and there. Asimov’s Foundation (though I somehow never read beyond the first book) did the trick. Larry Niven’s Ringworld and The Ringworld Engineers did okay, too (let’s just pretend the series ended there). More recently and unexpectedly, however, Michael Crichton’s Sphere kicked all kinds of ass for me, mostly because I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Crichton’s work… also because I have no idea what possessed me to read it. It’s kind of like Rendezvous with Rama if it had been written by James Cameron.

I’ll take it.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Optic nerve extraction

I put S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk near the top of my list for the best movies of 2015, which was already the best year for twenty-first century movies. If I were to go back and revise that list, I suspect the film would rank a little higher. As if to prove he’s no fluke, Zahler has made Brawl in Cell Block 99, a movie which I enjoyed even more than Tomahawk.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is pure, unabashed pulp, the furthest you can get from the increasingly predictable Oscar bait that’s been plaguing awards seasons since time immemorial. In the opening scene we see Vince Vaughn’s towering figure rise from the cab of a tow truck, the back of his bare head adorned with a crucifix tattoo. His character’s name is Bradley, never Brad, and anger undulates beneath the surface of his skin—we can see him struggling not to explode every second he’s on the screen. He’s a surprisingly smart and moral guy for his criminal underpinnings, but the world seems like it’s out to get him. He does the best he can do with shit situations which ambush him on a daily basis.

The same day the recovering alcoholic loses his job, he discovers his wife (Jennifer Carpenter) has been having an affair. He calmly waits for her to leave the scene and proceeds to dismantle her car with his bare hands. A man who shoves his fist through the headlight of a vehicle to rip its wiring out like the guts of a fish is a man who is possessed. Vaughn is 100% believable in the role, so much so it’s hard to believe this is the same guy from Swingers.

Jesus Christ your head

Once he has thoroughly murdered the car, Bradley walks inside and politely tells his wife he’s getting back into the drug dealing business. And that’s what ultimately leads to his incarceration, which will have him behind bars during his daughter’s birth. Bradley takes his medicine without complaint, but the people he’s pissed off are about to concoct one of the most heinous revenge plots ever seen.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is not for the faint of heart. No single thing which happens in it is quite as gory or gruesome as that infamous scene in Bone Tomahawk, but as a whole the movie might just be a bit more shocking. I can think of no other film I want to see more than the director’s next one, which will take a portion of this cast and add Mel Gibson to the mix. The name of that film is allegedly Dragged Across Concrete, which is fitting if it’s anything like this.

Goddamn, what a breath of fresh air.

33 days until Corpus Evil releases!

My eyes are swollen, my head is light, and I feel like I’m being waterboarded with mucus.

Allergies, man. Who needs ’em?

Let’s get the promotional junk out of the way: We’re about a month away from the release of Corpus Evil. Mark your calendars. It’s gonna scare your tits off.

The Amulet

Considering my allergies have whooped my ass to the point of lethargy, I would rather talk about Michael McDowell’s The Amulet, one of the most entertaining—and absurd—pieces of horror I’ve ever read. His later novel The Elementals seems to crop up on Amazon every time I browse the fiction section, so it’s satisfying to see such an underrated writer trending so many years after his death. I couldn’t tell you which of the two books I enjoyed more. I expect to burn through the rest of his stuff before the end of the year.

Another book I enjoyed recently is Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. For years I’ve avoided it based on its reputation. I don’t care how fucked up a story is as long as it’s fun (read: not mean), but joyless stories which participate in debauchery for the sake of being extreme tend to bore me. Mercifully, The Girl Next Door doesn’t belong in the extreme category. Yes, what happens to the titular character is certainly extreme, but it’s not without purpose and it counterbalances Ketchum’s sentimentality for the time and place. It’s an honest, beautifully written story about a horrific act, and it doesn’t use “evil” as a lazy, catch-all excuse for why bad things happen to undeserving people.

I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I reeled from a book, not wanting to go any further. And when you get to that point (you’ll know which part I’m talking about), you’ll probably discover you can’t put it down, either. That’s some powerful stuff.

Hellraiser Judgment, Skull Island, and The Cloverfield Paradox

Yeah, I’m still alive. Work has been busier than it’s been in ages, my girlfriend and I are remodeling our kitchen (extensively), and I’m still working on Corpus Evil. I haven’t forgotten the blog, it’s just low on my list of priorities at the moment, which sucks because I’d rather be doing this than most things.

So I saw Hellraiser Judgment today. I only fell asleep once.

The prologue is a promising ten minutes of gore-filled debauchery. Maybe it’s because the bar was set so low by the other direct-to-video sequels (I believe there were, like, a thousand of them), but it felt relatively fresh for a franchise that was always better in its idea department than in execution. I even began to think I was in for a fun stupid movie as opposed to a plain ol’ stupid movie.

My first problem (of many) is the same problem I had with the earlier sequels: Pinhead gets a little too much dialogue. (Come to think of it, that was one of my problems with Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels, which I kind of suspect was ghostwritten by someone else.) I don’t care what makes Pinhead tick because I just don’t want that particular veil of mystery lifted. It’s the same reason I’ve never read the Hannibal prequel: some villains are much more interesting without a backstory and monologues. Pinhead has become so pedestrian as of late.

Thankfully there’s a new villain who retains his mystique and his name is The Auditor. Like a cross between Yul Brynner’s role in Westworld and the bad guy from Highway to Hell, he’s a formidable screen presence played by an actor who’s far better than any of the other leads. His face covered with scars and sunglasses as black as welding goggles, he bores intimidation directly into the soul of any mortal foolish enough to cross his path… okay, maybe I’m laying it on a little thick, but trust me: the first ten minutes of Judgment are a blast.

It’s the rest of the movie that stinks to high hell.

If a CSI spin-off is your idea of a good time, you might like Judgment. Hopeful and/or desperate fans of the franchise, on the other hand, are going to be especially disappointed. I’m still wondering why it needed to be a Hellraiser movie in the first place. Like the more recent sequels, it feels like Pinhead was shoved in there just to get tortured fans to shell out money to see it. Unlike the recent sequels, it feels like the supplemental stuff could have made for a decent movie had they been given room to breathe.

I saw Kong: Skull Island and The Cloverfield Paradox, too. Skull Island has gotta be one of the best dumb blockbusters ever made—and believe me: it’s really dumb, going so far as to incorporate Hollow Earth Theory, the proponents of which could even make Flat Earthers cringe. Thankfully, I’m a sucker for giant monster movies (Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake notwithstanding). My brain is telling me not to like this movie, but it’s downright irresistible, even as one helicopter pilot after another repeatedly flies into Kong’s arm reach instead of firing their heavy weaponry from a safe altitude and distance.

The Cloverfield Paradox, on the other hand, sucked almost as bad as Hellraiser Judgment. JJ should really lay off the parallel dimension stuff, which kind of explains key events of the first two films at the expense of failing to explain any of the key events in this film. I fell asleep during this one as well.

I’m getting old, y’all.

American Satan (2017)

DaBand

After watching A Ghost Story, I decided I needed something a little louder to cleanse the palette. (For the record, I enjoyed A Ghost Story, but I did fall asleep during the drawn-out pie-eating scene). I booted up my VOD service and saw American Satan near the top of the horror section. With no prior knowledge of the movie I started it.

I’m impressed. What I saw, during the first third of the slightly bloated runtime, was a movie that didn’t look or feel like the current trend of indie horror films. From a technical standpoint, the movie’s damn near flawless. Despite the abundance of clearance merch’ from Hot Topic, I surprisingly found myself engaged by the young characters’ plight to move to Hollywood and become big rockstars.

That’s because the characters are a lot less annoying than their regrettable fashion choices would suggest. Once you see Denise Richards turn up as the main character’s mother, you’d expect another “Gee, my parents just don’t understand” subplot, but the movie never goes there. There are a lot of places it avoids, places lesser horror movies go to time and time again, but this is a movie that’s focused on cutting through the bullshit and getting to the point. Much of it verges on cliche, but not nearly as much as you would expect from a movie in which the main characters sell their souls to the devil for rock stardom.

Malcolm McDevil

Forty minutes in, however, you start to see the cards up its sleeve: many of its plot points seem to have been recycled from Behind the Music and other rock n’ roll legends, stories involving floozies who sneak their party-hard daughters onto the tour bus and musicians appearing on live television, drugged out of their minds. The realization doesn’t necessarily ruin the movie, but it does disperse a little bit of the magic. As far as plots go, this one’s about as pleasantly aimless as a Scorsese movie, only dragging a little towards the end.

I could have used a little less of the conspiracy theory exposition. This stuff is certainly fun, but going to such lengths to “prove” that real-life rock stars have enjoyed flaunting their devilish affiliations slows down the otherwise smooth pace. Still, I enjoyed it a lot, more because of what it doesn’t do than what it does. It’s just a fresh, fun movie with as many recognizable faces as new ones.

The Raid 2 (2014) [Midnight Movie]

Some of my favorite sequels are the ones which take the characters we care about and throw them into entirely different ordeals. It’s the reason Die Hard with a Vengeance is my favorite sequel in that franchise, and why Die Hard 2 kind of sucks ass. In The Raid 2 there isn’t even a raid, but as far as sequels go, it’s probably best case scenario. Spoilers for the original film follow.

The sequel opens mere minutes after the ending of the original. Rama discovers the evidence collected in the original film is inefficient at best. If he wants to catch corrupt cops, he’s going to have to go undercover in an Indonesian prison. (There’s a lot more to it than that, but it’s hard to go into detail without ruining some of the surprises… of which there are many.)

At this point you think: Okay, I get where this is going. Whereas Rama had to fight his way through thirty floors of insanity in the first film, he’s going to have to fight his way out of prison. But the movie only bothers with a couple of fight scenes in this setting before jumping ahead to Rama’s release, by which point he’s befriended a key player in the crime syndicate he’s been tasked to infiltrate. It should be noted that Rama, who thought he would only serve a few months in the prison, was stuck there for three years, unable to make contact with his wife and newly born son.

As brief as Rama’s backstory is, it really heightens the urgency of the already brutal action. While the individual fight scenes are no less stunning than those in the original, the movie spends a lot more time in between, which allows us to get to know Rama more than we did before. It’s as if the filmmakers weren’t trying to top or repeat what we saw in the first film, at least not on a superficial level, which allows the story to unfold organically. I probably prefer the sheer kineticism and originality of the first film, but there will be those who prefer this one.

I’m ecstatic that Yayan Ruhian, who played the exceptional henchman in the first film, returns in an entirely new role. Now he’s a machete-wielding assassin who roams the streets under the guise of a vagrant. What’s interesting is you think they’re setting him up to be the kind of bad ass he was in the original film, but they spend a surprising amount of time developing him into a sympathetic hit man.

Even though the two movies look and feel completely different, it’s hard to say which one is better. Again, I think I preferred the original for balancing that extremely thin line between exciting and exhausting, but this one’s so good I can’t wait until The Raid 3 is announced.